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Did Elisabeth Hasselbeck Commit Plagiarism in The G-Free Diet?

I got a phone call last night from my friend Youssef (he also produces my celiac disease Podcasts) who informed me that Elisabeth Hasselbeck, author of The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide (2009), was being sued for plagiarism and copyright violation by Susan Hassett, author of Living With Celiac Disease (2008). He was concerned that there might be some merit to the case, and if so, perhaps I shouldn’t have Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the front page of Celiac.com.  After a quick internet search I found the June 9, 2009 Warning Letter written by Hassett's attorney, Richard C . Cunha.  After a quick read it did not take me long to determine that Elisabeth Hasselbeck, in my non-expert legal opinion (I was indeed a corporate paralegal for seven years, although I did not deal with plagiarism cases), has nothing to worry about—I do not believe that Hassett's case has any merit. But don't trust me, I urge everyone to read through that document and decide for themselves.

The first thing that struck me when reading the Warning Letter was that Hassett seems to take too personally the fact that she never received a card or acknowledgment for sending Elisabeth Hasselbeck a sample copy of her own book. Having received dozens of books from various authors, I, too, am guilty of never sending out responses. I, myself, am just too busy to send out blanket responses to everyone who sends a book. My guess is that Elisabeth Hasselbeck, as a host on "The View," receives hundreds if not thousands of sample copies of books per year from authors all over the world, all of whom would love to be on her show—and she is also too busy to respond to all of them.

Looking at the portion of the Warning Letter that deals with "glaring similarities" of language between the two books, I really don't see too much similarity in the examples. The use of the phrase "Rome wasn't built in a day" is certainly not a surprise, after all, it is a saying that is used so often in the English language that is has, in fact, become a cliché! It could easily be argued that neither book presents any truly original ideas regarding celiac disease, and in cases of plagiarism and copyright violation, this is an important point. Since I do not think that a reasonable person would believe that the language examples cited in the Warning Letter would rise to the level of plagiarism, perhaps Hassett feels that it is her ideas that were stolen? Let's examine the ideas that are presented in this letter and try to determine if any of them are original ideas created by Hassett. Below are what I believe are the basic ideas that are presented as "glaring similarities" in the Warning Letter:
  1. Relapses happen so don't be discouraged / it will take time to figure the diet out.
  2. Wheat-free does not mean gluten-free.
  3. Forbidden list of foods with Latin names of grains.
  4. Symptoms of celiac disease.
  5. Deli meats might not be safe / the deli slicer could be contaminated.
  6. Double check products with their manufacturer because their ingredients can change without notice.
  7. Anti-caking agents used in spices may contain wheat.
  8. Those with celiac disease ought to shop in the outer isles of a supermarket.
How many of these do you think are Hassett's original ideas? Not only have I seen many of these ideas in various books on celiac disease over the years, but I've seen many (if not all) of them on Celiac.com—well before either author ever published their book. Here are some examples of this:

1. Relapses happen so don't be discouraged / it will take time to figure the gluten-free diet out.
A huge focus of the Celiac.com forum is to help support people maintain a gluten-free diet, and here is just one example out of many of a post (from 2006) that demonstrates this idea.

2.
Wheat-free does not mean gluten-free.

A search for "wheat free does not mean gluten-free" on Celiac.com yielded 26 results. I've been emphasizing this point since 1995, but here is a link to a Celiac.com post from 2005 with this exact quote in it.

3. Forbidden list of foods with Latin names of grains.
I believe that Celiac.com had the original "Forbidden List" of foods/ingredients that was ever posted on the Internet, and it DOES include grains with their Latin names on it, but if you don't believe me here is my Safe & Forbidden Lists page from May 30, 1997 courtesy of Archive.org. I actually created this page in 1995, and versions of these lists have been reproduced in many books. In chapter 10, pages 70-72 of her book, Hassett uses Celiac.com's Forbidden List from May 31, 2002 almost verbatim in her book without permission and without citing Celiac.com as its original source. Hassett's excuse at the end of the list is "Someone had given this list to me when I first found out I had celiac disease it was not much use to me then and really not much good to me now but I put it in the book in case it would be useful to someone who is reading the book." Wow, maybe this type of disclaimer will allow you to pull anything off of any copyright-protected Web site without proper citation or permission—do ya think?

4. Symptoms of celiac disease.
I think that every book and Web site on celiac disease lists symptoms of the disease (how could they not?). On Celiac.com we had a symptom list that we got permission to reprint from the Celiac Listserv back in 1995, but here it is on May 30, 1997.

5. Deli meats might not be safe / the deli slicer could be contaminated.
Here is a deli post from our forum from December 17, 2005, which contains "Just make sure you get the pre packaged meat from the manufacturer because the deli slicer will contaminate the meat."

6. Double check products with their manufacturer because their ingredients can change without notice.
It's hard to say how old this idea is...I can remember knowing this in 1995, but here is a post from Celiac.com's forum from August 22, 2004, which contains the idea: "You can (and generally should) double check with the company, but I am pretty sure it is still gluten-free."

7. Anti-caking agents used in spices may contain wheat.
Another ancient idea. See the very bottom of Celiac.com's Safe & Forbidden Lists from May 30, 1997 where it says "Ground spices - wheat flour is commonly used to prevent clumping."

8. Those with celiac disease ought to shop in the outer aisles of a supermarket.
Although this may be a newer idea (I am not sure that it is), I did see this idea at this site as well, and I believe that I have seen it in at least one other book on celiac disease, although I can't recall which one. Even if this were an original idea of Hassett's, it does not mean that Elisabeth Hasselbeck committed plagiarism by including it in her book, any more than Hassett committed plagiarism by using the ideas mentioned above that were not originally hers.

The rest of the Warning Letter deals with the layouts of both books, which again, look very similar to the layout of many books on celiac disease. I seriously doubt that this rises to the level of plagiarism, and I think it is very unfortunate that a lawsuit was necessary to figure this out—after all, my guess is that both authors originally had the same goal in mind for their books: To raise celiac disease awareness and to help others who have it (don't try to tell me they did it for the money because I know many celiac disease authors who don't make much money from their books).

Last, I am in the process of writing my own book on celiac disease—AUTHORS BEWARE—if anyone sends me a certified copy of their book I WILL NOT ACCEPT IT!

As always, Celiac.com welcomes your comments (see below).


Spread The Word



32 Responses:

 
Betty Boop

said this on
24 Jun 2009 7:36:41 PM PST
Wow. I'm no lawyer, and I certainly won't be the judge in the case, but when reading the letter, I was amazed to see that BOTH books apparently share the same misspelling -- both books used 'isle' instead of 'aisle' to mean 'supermarket aisle'; but 'isle' is short for 'island.' If that wasn't just an error in the letter, and if I were the judge, I'd be taking a hard, HARD look at that similarity -- especially since since Hassett's book was self-published (some typos and minor errors are expected in a self-pubbed book), and Elizabeth Hasselbeck's was published by a major commercial publisher -- meaning it would have been (should have been) carefully edited several times before publication, so should have contained few or no errors. But yet, that *particular *identical error appears in the big-name-published book. And then there's the 'similar chapter titles' jolt to consider. Personal opinion? I think Elizabeth Hasselbeck's attorney is going to have to work a little harder than for most celebrity authors to prove 'no plagiarism.' [Scott Adams' Reply: Actually Hassett misspells this in her book as 'Isles' and Hasselbeck spells it correctly as 'Aisles,' so Hassett's attorney won't get any traction on this idea.]

 
Maria

said this on
25 Jun 2009 8:31:05 PM PST
I'm surprised to read this comment by you, Mr. Adams. Clearly you are either a) do not know the definition of plagiarism, or b) being paid by Hasselbeck in some way and are taking her side as a result. It's plagiarism.

[Scott Adams' Reply: So what exactly did you read, both books, or the attorney's letter and/or complaint? Perhaps you didn't even finish reading this article... In any case, I happen to have actually looked at both books and read everything the attorney has written and the only plagiarism I can see was done by Hassett when she used my Forbidden List without permission or citation. Feel free to share the legal definition of plagiarism with us.]

 
Maria

said this on
30 Jul 2009 9:05:00 PM PST
Sure thing - although this definition is not from a lawyer, it is from dictionay.com

pla⋅gia⋅rism  /ˈpleɪdʒəˌrɪzəm, -dʒiəˌrɪz-/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [pley-juh-riz-uhm, -jee-uh-riz-] Show IPA
Use plagiarism in a Sentence
–noun 1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.
2. something used and represented in this manner.

Hasselback plagiarised as given by the first definition of the word above. Or more correctly, the guy who co-authored with her and has other plagiarism suits against him plagiarised. Something doesn't have to be written verbatim to be considered plagiarism.

The only thing Hasselback's people did was edit the sub-par grammar used by Hassett, which doesn't count as writing a whole new book.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
31 Jul 2009 3:13:18 PM PST
So let me get this straight, you are telling me that Hesselbeck just corrected Hassett's grammar mistakes and re-published Hassett's text verbatim in her own book...and that you have actually read both books?! Yeah, right, if you actually read either book I'd be surprised. So if that were true why wouldn't Hassett's lawyer just include some of these exact rip off examples in his warning letter? Also, if you knew what plagiarism really was you'd probably know how to spell it...didn't you notice that on dictionary.com?

 
Maria

said this on
30 Jul 2009 9:06:16 PM PST
And let me add that this 'Forbidden List' of yours wasn't actually published ever, hence you can't really call it plagiarism by legal standards.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
31 Jul 2009 3:03:07 PM PST
Maria, my Forbidden List was published on my Web site, and was copyright protected with a legal notice. In case you didn't know, it does not have to be published in paper format to have copyright protection. I provide a link to my site on archive.org which is the list she publishes in her book...clearly Hassett's own statement about the list should tell you that it wasn't hers.

 
FloridaMom

said this on
26 Jun 2009 7:16:54 AM PST
Oh Please Scott - while you wrote a good article - let's get real here. Hasselbeck hasn't had an original idea spewing from her mouth EVER. She constantly parrots others and then cannot back up her insinuations. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, acts like a duck, it's not a swan. [Scott Adams' Reply - What an intelligent comment ForidaMom - if you don't like her just call her names, right? Rather than attack Hasselbeck personally why not comment on the article, and the fact that the only person who we can verify stole information for their book was Hassett?]

 
Diane

said this on
28 Jun 2009 4:56:01 PM PST
But how do you justify the exact same order and almost exact name titles of Chapters? And furthermore do you condone non-medical celebrities self-diagnoses and soliciting medical information?

[Scott Adams Reply: I already address the similarities in the chapter order in my article (they are not exact so please don't use that term). Many books by celiacs have very similar structures and chapter headings...this is not a big deal in my opinion. The content of the books are totally different. If you look at 10 5th grade text books on American History I'll bet you'll see remarkably similar chapter headings--is that plagiarism?

Also, you really should read the book...Hasselbeck did get formally diagnosed in the end, she simply figured out that her problem was gluten by eliminating it from her diet when she was on the Survivor show. Many celiacs, including myself have figured out their problem this way. She does not condone not getting formally diagnosed in the book.]

 
Ill Eagle

said this on
30 Jun 2009 10:22:33 AM PST
Copyright infringement cases are determined on whether the actual creative writing was repeated verbatim. The finding depends on the actual words themselves.

Ideas cannot be protected.

The side by side comparison will be all that matters.

 
Jessy

said this on
30 Jun 2009 3:12:37 PM PST
I would like to be the first to say that I thought you standing up for her was a great thing. I am not a huge fan and I probably won't buy her book. You make a great point how there have already been many books before either of theirs were even written, and even this website has provided a wealth of knowledge. I think us celiacs should stay together and find any way to help one another, inform one another, or inform others and this would be a great step for all of us. Hasselbeck may not be an expert or express original ideas, but she does have a greater reach than most of us do. That's all I'm trying to say.

 
carole

said this on
30 Jun 2009 6:38:18 PM PST
Are we taking sides?? My! My!
What babies. Being gluten free is wonderful, and that is the most important thing for me!! Why take time for arguing??
By the way Scott-I'm on your side!!

 
Jan

said this on
30 Jun 2009 6:52:50 PM PST
Scott: Bravo for your article. I have read Elisabeth's book as well any other I can get my hand on and not only felt it was beneficial, but I learned a few new things. Isn't that what this about? Saving lives? There is only so much that can be written anyway until additional research comes out. She shared her struggles and was more than honest about her health so others might avoid much of what she has had to deal with healthwise. And that, of course, is why I subscribe to your things as well. I even get this one as an RSS feed. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about the case and for keeping up this website.

 
on your side

said this on
30 Jun 2009 7:10:54 PM PST
Scott, Amen Brother!! Finally someone with Sense! Some of you posters may want to step back and possibly get a life!!!

 
Sybil Nassau

said this on
01 Jul 2009 6:15:03 AM PST
Scott, would you classify this as 'much ado about nothing'???? In her defense, Hasselbeck did celiac disease a huge favor by bringing public awareness to the disease in a way that has not be done before. Second, her idea of 'replace not remove' is a phrase many of us wish we had invented, as it is a far-more positive approach to living gluten-free. Other than that, what else is really new and inventive in the celiac world? Please...

 
said this on
01 Jul 2009 6:24:25 AM PST
Any person who has been living with Celiac Disease for a few years knows that many articles, books, handouts from doctors, etc. are always very similar. There is only so much you can say about celiac disease regarding Facts.

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I read everything to gain more knowledge about the disease. I can't begin to tell you how many articles, stories and books, etc. were similar.

It is an absolute sham that someone has to take it to the next level and proceed with a lawsuit over something so petty. I can appreciate that she does not want her work stolen and she claims its plagiarism. However, it seems very evident that it can be more of a hurt ego then an actual incidence of plagiarism.

This is where the judge will hopefully use good judgment is this case. Let me guess she probably will also sue for pain, suffering and loss of sales.

Here's a thought - instead of everyone throwing her'under the bus', lets appreciate another book about celiac disease that could possibly help us gain more knowledge about the disease. People are dying of cancer and illness, lets worry about something of merit.

Anyone who doesn't agree - you are welcome to your opinion as I am with mine. Do me a favor read a few articles or books and then revisit this...see how you feel then.

 
Michelle in AZ

said this on
01 Jul 2009 4:10:03 PM PST
I completely agree with ValerieSantaBarbara. Very well articulated. I also challenge those of you who are doubting the validity of her book. Go ahead and pick up any celiac informational book and I guarantee you will read the very same statements. There *IS* only so much you can say about celiac. duh!

 
Tgrum

said this on
01 Jul 2009 8:11:53 PM PST
Please I liked the book well and it brought things to my attention I forgot. So out of this book there where how many lines maybe copied? There are worse things in life, especially when it come to info about celiac and having her write this also made others more aware. Do you know how many people have brought it to my attention that they know about celiac because they say her?

 
Non

said this on
02 Jul 2009 6:57:56 AM PST
I say let Hassett go for it because the more attention her lawsuit gets the more attention Celiac gets and the more people become aware of it. It's her money and she won't win but it is great for public awareness!

 
Gypsy

said this on
18 Jun 2010 6:36:35 PM PST
Non

What a great attitude! I say lighten up everyone- sounds political.

 
Dina

said this on
02 Jul 2009 8:02:49 AM PST
This disease is not known enough and many family doctors still have no clue about this disease. If anybody wants to publish a book or make the public know about this, its fantastic. We need a greater knowledge of this disease. We Celiac people need more support from the government. The food we have to buy is more expensive then any other food in the grocery stores.

 
Renée

said this on
02 Jul 2009 10:54:00 AM PST
Good work Scott, and thank you for taking the time to write the article: You could have just disregarded the warning letter for the rubbish-worthy marketing ploy that it is. Be well.

 
Budsweet

said this on
02 Jul 2009 12:53:03 PM PST
I've dealt with this disease for well over a decade.....NO doctor Ever helped me......I've managed it well.....and I don't even Want or CARE to read Hasselbeck's book......! I just don't think making a BUCK off of people that NEED this Celiac info......should be able to get it FREE since DOCTORS are NO help! I believe in free enterprise, but as far as heath information is concerned....Making $$'s off of folks who already are having a hard time of it with this disease/condition....have plenty of info on the internet! [Scott Adams' Reply: But what about all the free publicity and attention that Elisabeth is able to bring to this disease, which leads many to figure this out? What about doctors who make money off this by seeing people over and over for problems related to this, but never get them tested? Last, people are free to not buy any book they don't feel will help them, including both of these books, but for those who do want more information there will always be people who do lots of work and sell their information to make money--this is actually a good thing because it offers celiac a huge amount of information that otherwise might not be available.]

 
Diana

said this on
03 Jul 2009 5:22:02 AM PST
Terrific article! I'm a bit appalled at the articles about this book on the net, most of them condemn her with the statement--'I haven't read the book but she couldn't possible know anything.'
If it hadn't been for this book I'd still be in pain asking questions and getting no answers! I think she's done a great deal for celiac awareness. Yes, there are some who have probably written better books, more information etc. but sadly they lack the media presence to make an impact. I'm glad she's out there letting people know and once again, thank you Scott for an intelligent article.

 
Ann

said this on
03 Jul 2009 5:24:00 AM PST
There is a positive side to this story. As a celebrity, albeit a controversial one, Hasselbeck's suit has brought some media attention to celiac disease. I never heard of it until I read a story about the lawsuit. I was intrigued, Googled what it was, stumbled on the symptoms and my jaw dropped. Two days later I was having blood drawn. I'm still waiting for results, but I will be astounded if this is not the root of my physical problems. I hope other people are curious enough to learn more about celiac when they encounter this story.

 
subscriber

said this on
04 Jul 2009 12:16:33 PM PST
Scott, I am looking forward to your book. You come from a scientific background and your research is solid. Please give us a heads-up when it's going to be available.

 
linda floyd

said this on
04 Jul 2009 4:12:43 PM PST
Why did you not publish a link to Sue Hassetts book?? How unbiased are you??? NOT! [Scott Adams' Response: Gee..didn't you read the article--Hassett used my Forbidden List without my permission or proper citation--why would I want to sell a book by someone who did this to me?]

 
Tami NANTZ

said this on
06 Jul 2009 1:07:56 PM PST
Scott, I appreciate your take on the matter. I happen to agree with you, and it is my opinion that most of the hate-filled comments I have read here have more to do with Hasselbeck's politics than they do any merit to a plagiarism case whatsoever.
I guess Hassett could be accused of copying someone else's work too, if we're getting technical, so she'd better watch out. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. And please, people, pull your heads outta the sand and give up the intolerance. It's most unbecoming.

 
Erin

said this on
15 Jul 2009 4:50:48 AM PST
I was recently diagnosed with gluten-intolerance, and am in the process of finding out if it's celiac. I've looked at the facts presented, and I think you're right, Scott--Elisabeth is innocent of plagiarism. But I'm biased. For those who don't understand the gravity of throwing Elisabeth under the bus like this, she's a member of this community and she IS having an impact on getting people diagnosed. I am one of those people. I had no idea what celiac was, or what was wrong with me all these years until she made her story public. Yes, it's true there's tons of free information on the web, but I never sought it out until her book came out. I read the intro online through Amazon's preview function, ordered the book, and devoured it. I googled celiac, spent an entire evening reading people's diagnosis stories, just dumbstruck that all these years of pain and fatigue (among other things) were caused by this simple little protein. I doubt I ever would have found out what was wrong with me if she hadn't published her story. Her book and her publicity for celiac disease may have saved my life, and certainly have saved me from a lot of pain in the future.

 
Beth

said this on
15 Jul 2009 12:53:14 PM PST
My husband was just diagnosed, so I've been watching this case. I do see the similarities, even if they aren't 'exact.' Though they aren't copied word for word, there's enough to make it pretty clear that she at least used the other person's book as a template. As a writer (who isn't a celebrity), I find that offensive. I'm also pretty turned off by the tone of this post. As someone who runs a site like this, you should try to remain impartial and objective--maybe even supportive of both sides? Instead, you've alienated me because of what seems like a political stance. Your responses to some of the comments here are aggressive and very defensive, and that turns me off as well. It's your site, and you have the right to run it the way you want--but it's a shame that I probably won't be back. I'm sure there's good information here. [Let's see, if people make comments about my personal blog entry here I can't have an opinion or respond to them because I am the site owner? Sorry, but I didn't start a site on the Internet because I don't have an opinion...I do have one, that is why I have a site.]

 
Rusty

said this on
11 Aug 2009 8:27:46 PM PST
As a newly diagnosed celiac, my battle has been a real struggle, and I appreciate all information, assistance, and support wherever and whenever I can find it. Hasselbeck gave me a starting place and a focus. From there I have branched out and researched resources from cookbooks to Internet references. What other people said is so true--most books basically reiterate each other. What I continue to take away from these books, however, is a growing understanding of my disease and how to better understand it and deal with it. Gradually, these books, ALL these books, are building confidence and hope, and I am ever grateful to the authors for gifting us with this direction. Also, to you, Scott, for this site...

 
Lisa Mims

said this on
11 Nov 2009 2:54:38 PM PST
I'm a lawyer. It's my opinion that she didn't commit plagiarism--although I didn't like Hasselbeck's book because she also seems sort of eating disordered and way too anxious about food generally, and thus, I wrote a very negative review of her book on Amazon.

It doesn't mean she plagiarized it because I don't like her book.

 
Mockingbird

said this on
09 Dec 2009 5:14:03 AM PST
Celiac is a very lonely, isolating disease. You turn down food at social gatherings, because when in doubt go without, and you suddenly become the obsessive freak about her food. It's up for the judges to prove plagiarism, if it does indeed exist (I haven't read her book). My appreciation for ANY celiac book, is the publicity the disease receives. Too many ignorant people who judge those with food allergies. I'm sure Hasselbeck could have written on other more controversial subjects, just to sell a book. But she chose to write about a disease that is so very hard to live with. Which side (Hasselbeck or Hassett) do you think greed plays a part?




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